C2C: Exploring the participatory experiences of transgender and non-binary people in sport

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C2C: Exploring the participatory experiences of transgender and non-binary people in sport
Abby Barras, Ph.D. Student, University of Brighton
Twitter: @AbbyBarras
Blog: www.abbybarras.com

I’m going to start this introduction off with a confession. This is going to be only the second conference I have ever presented at, ever. If you had told me two years ago that I would be standing in front of academics and talking about my PhD research, the chances of me believing you would be rock bottom. This is not because I have had a meteoric rise into academia, far from it. Rather I am here by a lucky fluke, a bit of hard work, and the good grace to know that it’s not an opportunity to be squandered. This post is as much an explanation as to how I got here as a thank you to those who helped and inspired me and continue to do so.

At the time of writing I am just finishing my second year as a full-time PhD student at the University of Brighton, based in the School of Applied Social Science. My research focuses on the participatory experiences of transgender and non-binary people in everyday sport and physical exercise in the UK. It’s a scholarly extension of my master’s dissertation (Gender Studies, University of Sussex) which looked at participation for elite level transgender athletes and why posters on the website Mumsnet had (and continue to have), such an issue with transgender people taking part in sport. My research is a bit of a balancing act, drawing on feminist standpoint and queer theory, hegemonic masculinity, sports sociology, gender studies and the significance of transgender people and bodies.

I came late, then, to postgrad education, doing my MA part time in 2014 when my son started school and I was working at the University of Brighton as an administrator. It was hard at times to juggle it all, but I found a home on that course, one which offered me non-judgemental explanations as to why I had been feeling so overwhelmed by motherhood. It gave me a renewed belief system, it re-politicised me and reconnected me to feminism. I found the topics which I could most relate to were those around bodies: pregnant bodies, bodies that move, health, fitness and sport. I was fascinated by the opposing arguments in academia and the media and wanted to explore these debates more fully. In October 2016 I applied to do a PhD and was accepted to the University of Brighton to start the following year. Without the support of my tutor Prof Alison Phipps and former supervisor Prof Katherine Johnson I would not be here, now writing about this PhD, and I will be forever grateful to them both for believing in me.

Don’t worry, I’m done with trying to understand what’s going on in Mumsnet-Land, but I did come to realise that there is a lack of in-depth qualitative research which directly asks transgender people about their participatory experiences in everyday sport and physical exercise. Transgender people still face greater barriers to participation than cis-gender people, so I wanted to find out exactly why and hopefully, work with people to reduce these health inequalities.

Lastly, my research would not exist were it not for the generosity of the people in the transgender community who spoke to me about their experiences. The biggest thanks will always be to them.

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